Why did they do it? How customers’ self-service technology introduction attributions affect the customer-provider relationship

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Purpose – Customers often think that innovations, such as self-service technologies (SSTs), are introduced by service providers to cut costs rather than extend customer service levels. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how customers use such attributions to adjust their perceptions of relational value. Design/methodology/approach – Drawing on attribution and relationship marketing theories, this study proposes a conceptual model that includes benefit and cost attributions, their antecedents, and consequences. Survey data came from customers of a supermarket that recently introduced self-scanning technology. Findings – Attributions mediate the impact of SST performance on relational value. This value is highest for customers with high-benefit and low-cost attributions; customers with low-benefit and low-cost attributions exhibit detrimental effects on the exchange relationship with the firm. Characterized by low self-efficacy, low education, and low spending, these latter customers appear ambivalent and possibly confused about the provider’s motives for introducing SST. Practical implications – This research has important implications for service managers responsible for communicating technological innovations to customers. A clear reason for the introduction should be provided, to stimulate customers’ attribution and prevent ambivalence among those with low self-efficacy and low education. Originality/value – Most SST research focusses on adoption, non-adoption, and disadoption. The more subtle responses by customers facing a new SST and the consequences for the customer-provider exchange relationship, as addressed herein, have been left largely unexplored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-298
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Service Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2016


  • Relationship marketing
  • Self-service
  • Service innovation
  • Survey
  • Technology


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